Planting Trees in 90210: TreePeople

South Los Angeles, 1992, left, and 2014, right with the trees planted by Tree People.
South Los Angeles, 1992, left, and 2014, right with the trees planted by Tree People.

TreePeople Volunteers help the Southern California Environment with New Trees

In the San Fernando Valley, residents can get free fruit trees from Tree People to plant in their yards.
In the San Fernando Valley, residents can get free fruit trees from Tree People to plant in their yards.

By Laurie Magree

Swimmin’ pools, movie stars…a lot of things come to mind when you think of Beverly Hills, California, but a commitment to reforestation is probably not among them.

Take a cruise up Mulholland Drive past the Hollywood Hills, however, and you’ll find the headquarters of TreePeople, an organization whose mission is to inspire people to take personal responsibility for their environment.

For nearly 45 years TreePeople has been making California greener through large- and small-scale seedling plantings, tree care workshops, pest control, and a multitude of other environmental programs and activities.

They have a program that gifts fruit trees to residents in the San Fernando Valley, too!

TreePeople´s many projects run year-round and require a constant supply of able volunteers. A visit to TreePeople provides a nice balance for anyone who wants to see something of California beyond Disneyland, the Hollywood sign and Rodeo Drive.

Headquarters are located in an abandoned fire station in Coldwater Canyon Park, a 44-acre oasis whose tranquility soon makes visitors forget that they are in the middle of one of the country’s largest urban areas.

The area includes seven miles of hiking trails, a tree nursery, organic gardens, a fruit orchard and educational displays. Many events take place right in the park, including tree care for young oaks that will one day provide shade over the park trails. Numerous workshops are held on-site, as well as hikes and get-togethers for volunteers.

For those who want to venture further, there is no end to the number of events taking place in and out of L.A. Recent TreePeople projects have included planting native pine seedlings on the Big Sur coast; weeding, reberming and mulching Chinese Flame trees in West L.A.; and reforesting coniferous zones of Los Padres National Forest.

Arbor Day Lunch Planting in California
Arbor Day Lunch Planting in California.

Half day or three-day trip

Interested individuals, families or groups are welcome to participate in the planting efforts, with activities lasting anywhere from a half-day to a two- or three-day camping trip.

I caught up to TreePeople on Earth Day, when even the environmentally challenged are likely to think green. Groups of cub scouts, boy scouts, middle school students, and corporate “community action teams” like one run by Honda of America, turned out for the Earth Day planting.

Not all were organized parties: there were couples, families, individuals, and groups of friends ready to lend a hand.

The site was Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area, one of the best-kept secrets in L.A. Tucked away behind busy La Cienega Boulevard and a smattering of oil derricks lies a large corridor of native plants and wildlife.

Although urban development has already caused many plants and animals to disappear from the area, it still hosts over one hundred species of birds and dozens of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and insects.

These animals depend on over 70 different species of native plants for their survival. Since the park does not receive enough funding for planting, TreePeople frequently contributes manpower and other resources.

The morning started off with an orientation and demonstration by TreePeople staff. Our work area was a sloping hillside alongside a hiking trail, peppered with small orange flags stuck into the ground. The staff showed us how to dig a hole at each flag, remove the seedlings from containers without damaging them, place them into the holes we had dug, and remove any air space before filling the holes back up.

We also placed wire cages around the seedlings to protect them from gophers. The wire, we were told, would slowly decompose over the next five or six years.

My fellow planters each seemed to have their own reasons for participating in the event, but the common thread was definitely enthusiasm. Anya Hayes, a Honda employee, brought her 3-year old son Elijah so that they could do their part on Earth Day but “This is something where he can come back years from now and see the trees he planted.”

For some, the rewards were more immediate.

Anthony Grisby, an 11-year old from Horace Mann Middle School, thought the planting was hot and hard work, but also “cool.” Walking past a seedling he had planted just hours before, he could not contain his excitement. “It’s already growing something!” he shouted.

Restoring Whole Plant Communities

Although our goal for the day—to plant 150 oak and walnut seedling trees—seemed straightforward enough, a great deal of planning and expertise were involved. As Mountain Forestry Manager Tom Persons explained, the essence of the project is not just planting trees but restoring “whole plant communities.”

In other words, the overall blueprint included not only oak and walnut trees but all of the associated plants that grow under the canopy of these trees as well.

Anyone who has witnessed the scorched black remains of a forest fire can appreciate the labor involved in helping those areas return to their original state. In addition to TreePeople’s staff experts, dubbed “Citizen Foresters,” TreePeople often works in conjunction with the U.S. Forest Service to care for areas that are recovering from fire.

When Citizen Foresters and Forest Service personnel plan the reforestation, they must consider not only how to make a forest grow back, but also what types of trees will increase the species and age diversity of the forest. This is important in providing improved resistance to disease and parasites. They must also take into account which animal species use the forest as their habitats.

Though it may have started as a local organization, TreePeople’s achievements have extended worldwide. A year of research and logistics planning went into an African famine relief effort, in which 6,000 fruit trees were flown to six nations.

If you still need one more reason to devote a day of your next California visit to the environment, consider the fact that this could be your best shot at rubbing elbows with the stars. Actresses Cameron Diaz, Christina Applegate, and Selma Blair have volunteered for TreePeople.

Rocker Tommy Lee has also participated in plantings, which count towards court-mandated community service hours. So skip the Hollywood crowds and head to TreePeople 90210. You may just end up mulching with your favorite celebrity!

For More Information:

TreePeople (818) 753-4600

12601 Mulholland Dr.
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

Start by signing up for their free newsletter

Getting There

From Sunset Boulevard in Beverly Hills, head north on Beverly Drive (just east of the Beverly Hills Hotel), follow Beverly Drive north through several curves and turns. Beverly becomes Coldwater Canyon Drive. Take Coldwater 5 miles up the hill to Mulholland Drive. Follow Mulholland to the left, and within 1/8 mile, at the next traffic light, turn right into the Park driveway.If you are planning to visit southern California and would like to participate in an event, check the TreePeople Events calendar on their website or call the Mountain Forestry hotline for the latest information.

Some plantings are okay for large groups while others require only a limited number of volunteers who must register ahead of time. In addition to plantings, TreePeople offers monthly special events such as environmental workshops, social hikes, and gatherings for volunteers, and an hour-long guided full moon hike. Most workshops are free to members and $10 for non-members.

Clothing and Practicals

The events calendar provides a contact name and phone number for each event.

TreePeople provides tools, work gloves, and drinking water. Generally, volunteers should wear sturdy shoes and are encouraged to bring a hat, sunscreen, and snacks for themselves.

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